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Temple Beth Zion to mark building's 40 years

Situated amid classical brick and stone mansions, the modernistic, dish-shaped building with the bright, scalloped walls must have been something of a startling sight on Delaware Avenue when it was dedicated in 1967.

But the design of Temple Beth Zion quickly won acclaim, and 40 years later it is viewed as an architectural gem and a vital part of the urban landscape.

Members of the area's largest Jewish congregation see the building simply as home, and they'll commemorate four decades in their unique sanctuary with a special service Friday.

"This is a place where people come to celebrate being Jewish," Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld said. "Now, it has 40 years of life in it."

The service will include a procession of the Torah into the synagogue, as was done in 1967, and a lighting of the menorah.

The building at 805 Delaware Ave. was the product of a fire in 1961 that destroyed the congregation's former synagogue, an impressive Byzantine structure of Medina brownstone with a huge copper dome.

The leadership chose not to replicate the landmark, which was built in 1889, and instead hired New York City architect Max Abramovitz to create a modern design.

The 10 scallops in the exterior walls are symbolic of the Ten Commandments. The circular limestone walls were tilted outward at a 15-degree angle to resemble arms raised in prayer.

Inside, the design allows sunlight to flood the entire sanctuary, which features stained-glass windows and 30-foot-tall tablets of the Ten Commandments at the main altar by artist Ben Shahn.

The congregation spent about $1 million in 2005 on interior renovations to the sanctuary and other areas.


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